Monday, April 13, 2009

Debtor's Rights

Even debtors have some rights against the calls from collection agencies. When those calls turn into harassment the debtor can fight back - in court. At this time when many of us are late on bills and no longer have the luxury of HELOCing those maxed out credit cards it is good to know what avenues collections agencies are allowed to pursue. In the Houston Chronicle there is a list of barred federal practices accompanying an article titled Some debtors getting payback. Let's look at the federal barred practices first -

• Tell a neighbor, co-worker or non-spouse that you owe money.

• Call at work after you’ve told them you can’t receive such calls.

• Call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

• Call an excessive number of times.

• Continue to call after receiving written request to stop.

• Threaten violence, arrest or incarceration.

• Use profanity or harassing and abusive language.

When reading the article remember these people do owe money but were excessively harassed or threatened. Issues involved reporting personal debts to family members, excessive calls (one case involved 5 calls in 30 minutes) and threatening harm and injury to the family members. This harassment does not sounds like something that would happen from a $200 overdue Target charge - it sounds like they borrowed from Tony Soprano. Now lets take a look at the accompanying article -

Lawyers in the debt business say that as collectors get desperate in these tough times, consumers are increasingly fighting back by suing those who use illegal tactics.


“This is definitely increasing in popularity,” said Daniel Ciment, a Houston lawyer who once owned a collection agency and now sues debt collectors. “It’s most likely because debt collectors are hurting.”


“Anyone who thinks there isn’t collection abuse is an idiot,” said Manny Newburger, an Austin-based lawyer who defends debt collectors nationwide. But Newburger believes it’s a few bad actors in a legitimate industry.


A jury awarded an El Paso couple $11 million, though an appeal’s court cut that down to $1 million in 1998. Trying to get $2,700 owed on a VISA card bill, collectors swore at the couple, harassed them at work, said they’d put out a contract to kill one of the debtors and appeared to have called a bomb threat to a debtor’s workplace.

In another legendary Texas case, an elderly woman with anxiety disorders was awarded $15 million by a Duval County jury after being harangued about a relative’s debt and believing threats she’d be jailed so she surrendered to confused authorities.

While the article is mostly focused on Texas issues it does address the federal rights as well. If we find any New Jersey specifics we will bring them to you.

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